Could a reformed, hi-tech traffic department end road issues?

Bribe collection mission could be replaced with actual service

In Summary

• Kenya is trying to follow in South Africa's shoes with a traffic management centre


As Kenyans mourn their dead from recent tragic road accidents in Taita Taveta and Makueni, and others begin the process of finding funds to settle hospital bills for those who survived the road smashes, perhaps it is time to look at traffic policing.

As far as I am concerned, traffic policing should concentrate on two things in particular: detecting speed and traffic violations, and  enforcing the rules of the road.

I am sure this is some of what is taught wherever it is our traffic officers go to learn their trade.

However, if anecdotal evidence is to be believed, when it comes to the practicality of the job, the main mission is to collect enough cash in bribes disguised as fines, to meet the daily or weekly quotas set by some bent officers at the top.

If the story I heard the other day was true, those who fail in this mission get assigned roundabout traffic control duties as a punishment. 

The key performance indicators (KPIs) of traffic police should be about how efficient they are at controlling traffic, thus reducing the number of road users exceeding speed limits and committing traffic violations.

I have always believed that if the conditions of service for the police were massively improved, it would lessen corruption in the ranks. And I was foolish enough to hope that the police reforms we’ve been hearing about since at least 2003 would have brought this transformation around by now.

Imagine if we had a well-remunerated traffic police and gave them the proper tools with which to detect speed and traffic violations.

We know they can be efficient when they want to be, but imagine a situation where they were enabled and encouraged to reduce traffic crashes, traffic-related injuries, deaths and road trauma.

Meanwhile, whoever is in charge of painting road markings in Nairobi should be fired. I was being driven around Westlands the other day. I noticed that there were no road markings, and the city’s already unruly motorists were behaving like a herd of stampeding cows.

The motorists are the other side of the coin as it were.

In an ideal world, motorists shouldn’t need encouragement to comply with speed limits, but unfortunately, across the globe, they seem to.

But I seriously believe if we reformed the traffic police and the way in which people are tested and qualified for driving licences, it would go a long way to changing the attitudes of drivers.

One way to do this is to use technology. For years, there have been whispers about something called the Nairobi Intelligent Transport System (ITS) and the building of a Traffic Management Centre (TMC) off Mombasa Road somewhere.

The kind of severe traffic congestion we see in Nairobi has a negative effect on productivity, the running costs of vehicles, the environment and the amount of time people spend with their families. 

I don’t know how far this idea is down the line, but the time is more than ripe.

In 2010, Cape Town got its R160 million (R314 million or Sh2.4 billion in 2023 terms) state-of-the-art TMC courtesy of the World Cup legacy projects scheme.

I believe the one proposed for Nairobi is set to cost between Sh6 billion and Sh8billion.

Cape Town's TMC was the first integrated public transport, traffic and safety and security management centre in South Africa, and also one of the first of its kind in the world.

This system uses 197 CCTV cameras to monitor the traffic flow and 48 variable message signs to communicate with commuters.

Variable message signs have been erected throughout the city, of which some use renewable energy sources, such as wind and solar power.

In the TMC’s own chest-thumping words: “It brought together services like highway management, urban traffic control, transport information centre, integrated rapid transit, traffic services and metro police to function side-by-side in one operational environment designed and built to meet and exceed world standards”

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